Leah (Tara Lynn Orr) experienced a traumatic childhood in war-ravaged Beirut. It was a childhood that made her long for the safety of people and place. She believed she found that safety in Neil, their Andalusian farm idyllic in a myriad of ways.
Then, Neil was gone.
Calling close friends Beth (Tullan Holmqvist) and Gregory (Philippe Brenninkmeyer) to join her for a weekend at the farm, what seems to be a friendly gathering becomes much more when Leah reveals a secret. And a shocking choice.
Nearly simultaneously, Alix (Nahéma Ricci) arrives at the farm having decided to spend the summer with her environmentalist uncle and the farm's caretaker, Andrés (Amr Waked), a breath of fresh air in a life that has become incredibly suffocating. Alix brings with her secrets of her own.
Written and directed by Nathan Buck, Under Spanish Skies is one of the increasingly rare breed of dramas designed specifically for adults. The film had its world premiere in 2022 at the Boston International Film Festival before embarking on a successful festival run that included prizes at Boston (Indie Spirit Award for Excellence in Filmmaking), Golden Nugget International Film Festival (Spring Award, Best Feature and Best Director), Indigo Moon Film Festival (Audience Award, Narrative Feature), Montreal Independent Film Festival (Best Independent Feature), and Berlin Independent Film Festival, DE (Best Drama Feature). Under Spanish Skies has been picked up by indie distributor Indie Rights and is now available through most streaming platforms including Amazon Prime Video, Tubi, Google Play, and YouTube.
Actually filmed in Andalusia, Under Spanish Skies is a mesmerizing film to behold. Milton Kam's lensing magnificently captures the beauty of the surroundings while also capturing uncompromisingly the trauma unfolding underneath the surface. It is clear that even amidst such a seemingly safe and serene setting that real life cannot be escaped.
It could be said that Under Spanish Skies centers around Leah, a traumatized and grieving woman who has made a choice that will impact those who surround her. To a lesser degree, perhaps, young Alix is front-and-center as a young woman who has been left by her girlfriend and rejected by her religious family. Yet, in fact, it is most likely the present only in memories and photos Neil who really serves as the crux of the story.
While Hollywood films these days often fill such a film with trumped up action sequences and over-the-top histrionics, Under Spanish Skies trusts the power of its story and the vitalilty of its characters. Under Spanish Skies is not just about the situations that unfold here but about the relationship that each character has to one another and how these situations impact the relationship. Under Spanish Skies is an intelligent film, a film entirely dependent upon its ensemble to bring Buck's emotionally honest story to life and, indeed, this ensemble succeeds tremendously.
Tara Lynn Orr beautifully weaves together Leah's complex tapestry of weathered weariness, despair, insightfulness, and other vibrantly realized layers. It's a strong performance that largely serves as the bridge for everything else that unfolds. Somewhat arguably, Amr Waked and Philippe Brenninkmeyer are the film's most familiar faces and Under Spanish Skies reminds us why with grounded, meaningful performances recognizing the power of their dialogue without ever turning histrionic. Both Tullan Holmqvist and Nahéma Ricci similarly shine with Ricci, in particular, adding a vital layer of poignancy and vulnerability..
Music by Giovanni Spinelli is sublime and perfectly aligned with Buck's eloquent yet honest dialogue. Kudos as well for Megumi Eda's production design and Rudolf Buitendach's patient, observant editing work here.
Under Spanish Skies is the kind of adult drama that demands patience and attention. It's not what I call a "laundry" film, the kind of film you watch on streaming while doing the household chores. Instead, it's a film you sit down with lights dimmed and surrender yourself to it fully attentive. For those who do, the rewards will be plenty.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic